Chapter 25: Come On Eileen
from the 1982 album “Too-Rye-Ay” by Dexys Midnight Runners
posted at 15:59, 12 April 2019
Come on Eileen: these things they are real
And I know how you feel
The day the end of the world arrived, I bumped into the first and last love of my life. I hadn’t planned to fall in love that day, what with all the shouting and looting going on: everybody just seemed to have discovered the benefits of nihilism and hedonism simultaneously that day, and it was hard to think with all the screaming and moaning going on around me. But then I walked onto Spencer and I saw her. Striped shirt, hair tied back in a tight ponytail, jean shorts, walking towards the bus stop as she tucked her phone away.
As she sidled up, I tried to get back to my book, but already I’d lost the plot. Turning the page only confused things further: had the protagonist just jumped on the tram or off it? I searched the page: absolutely no clue. I shoved it back in my bag and sighed, the low guttural note fading into the atmosphere. We were the only two people waiting under the shelter, and it was all quiet there — everyone else was running around outside, stocking up on things that they wouldn’t need in a couple of hours. Maybe it helped them mentally shield against the incoming meteorite, I don’t know. The apocalypse does take your mind off a lot of things.
“You got a powerbank on you?” I turned to see her looking at me. “My phone’s run out, I got cut off in the middle of a farewell with my mum.”
“Nope, sorry…” I shrugged. “Don’t believe in them anyway. There’s a payphone at the next corner, you could go for that…”
“Oh, it’s fine,” she said, leaning back on the plastic, heavy and sticky with fresh spray-paint. “I did it as a formality anyway, we haven’t been in touch since I left. And I wasn’t going to do it, really, but Ashley — my sister — thought it would be nice for us to be reconciled or something before we all died in an international explosion.” She laughed softly. “She’s so weird, thinking that everything needs a happy ending.”
“Well, you’ve got plenty of time if you change your mind…” No use convincing her otherwise, of course. “I wish I could do that, but my data now is really weak… everybody’s using it, apparently, and mine’s an old one. We spoke this morning, but I still hope they’re doing okay with all the riots going around…”
“Oh I get that… why’dnt you use the payphone?”
“I did. Just now. Run out of coins. It’s my fourth call today.”
She sniggered. “You spent all your coins on phoning your mum and dad?”
“And every single person in my extended family.”
“Wow. You’re quite the nice little boy aren’t you?”
“Well… it just feels right, you know, it’s not like they’d shoot me for not giving them a call…”
“Alright, not judging.” She held up her hand. “I’m Kathryn.”
“Ian. Last name?”
“Does it matter now?”
“I suppose not.” The sky was getting dark, but the lights hadn’t gone on in the shelter yet, so I could only see the broadest of outlines in her face. She was tall — probably even taller than me, but It looked graceful enough, though the shadows weren’t helpful in helping me decide whether I should trust or like her at once. But then, she was right. At this hour, what did it matter? I looked up at the skies, looking for the thing that was going to kill us all in a couple of hours. When was the meteorite gonna come again?
“Around ten? Ten to ten thirty is what they said on the web.”
I looked at my phone. Still three hours to go. What the hell, worth a try. “You had dinner yet?”
“No. Starving. Wanna go eat?”
Two hours later, we were lying on her bed, a tangle under the sheets. The room was dark — one of us kicked the sole working lamp over as we were undressing each other — but I imagined the shapes and the outlines our bodies made under the covers. I stared at her iron-rust hair and marvelled at how we’d gotten here. Everything from the past 120 minutes felt like a montage that shifted quickly from scene to scene: the table at the pizzeria, the quick-fire responses, the wetness of the fountain at the park. When she’d suggested that we go back to her place, I’d only hesitated a fraction of a second before saying yes, and then her lips had caught mine another fraction later. After that though — it was hard to say. The world had caught on fire for me two hours early then, as a warmth spread from the touch of her lips and all the way around my body, and blinded me to everything else. She might have laughed a bit at my clumsy attempts to remove her bra — I sort of remember my fingertips shaking a lot, feeling like I was playing a melody I both knew and did not know. We might have whiled away thirty minutes doing it, or maybe it was only thirty seconds. Between the two of us, we must have said we loved each other more than a hundred times.
I felt for her hand under the covers. “Whoa,” I heard her say. “Easy there.” Blushing, I turned round to look at her face.
“What are you thinking?”
“Just wondered why I’m spending the last few hours of my life with a stranger who I just met.”
“The power of boners?”
I chuckled. “Perhaps. But you know, you could have done a lot of stuff. Sat home with family, gone out with friends to explore the city. You could have done a lot of other stuff, and instead you’re going hedonistic and doing it with someone you just met on the street.”
“Yeah, but it’s the end of the world. Not much else I can do. Plus my friends aren’t responding to my texts, so I don’t have much to go on with. Except you,” she said, flashing a smile.
“Aww, how nice of you,” I deadpanned.
We kissed in the dark, feeling each other’s curves, blowing gently in each other’s faces. There was a slight hint of lilies underneath the sweat — probably her hand cream, maybe something else we’d knocked over in our haste to get it on with each other one last time. I hadn’t told her that I hadn’t done this before — I think it showed, anyway, and in any case the euphoria of her touch on mine had wiped that anxiety from my mind, at least for now.
A boom sounded from afar. I turned towards the window, thinking it was another shopfront exploding down in the street. It was — but another speck in the sky caught our eyes. We gasped, and I looked my phone. Quarter past nine. At most another 45 minutes before we said our goodbyes.
Kathryn broke the silence. “Well. That’s happening now,” she said.
We walked towards the window, stepping over the discarded tops and pants that still lay on the floor. Some people down in the street had noticed it as well, and were pointing at it. What surprised me was how little people cared: now that Armageddon was well and truly on its way, the finality of the situation had gotten through, and everyone was just going about their business again. A gang of youths, who moments before had just been breaking windows on Anthony Street, were now even slinking back to help with the cleaning up.
“Do you ever think that we might survive this?” I asked her. “That the meteorite might somehow miss Earth? Then we’d have to go back to life as we knew it, we’d have to recreate society again. And what happened tonight — well, we’d have to ask ourselves a lot of questions for being… ” That wasn’t the right word. “Well, a little irresponsible.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Kathryn, pulling up her legs (God, those legs) onto the armchair, her hair falling across her bare chest. “But we’re not irresponsible, are we really? I mean, when it comes to this,” she said, looking out the window, “what do you want me to do? For all we know — and it’s almost a dead certainty, really, no pun intended —” I chuckled again, and she rolled her eyes. “This is it. This is all we get. So all I’m really doing is spending it in some sort of way meaningful to me. Which happens to be meeting strange men in bus shelters and then going on a date with them.”
“We went on a date?”
“Well, whatever you want to call it. Anyway, society can wait, that’s all I’m saying. It’s the end of the world, for Heaven’s sake. There’s no protocol for this.”
I drew my chair closer to hers. “I guess you’re right… we’re doing our best here, so who’s to say that we’re wrong to spend it making love?”
“That was your best?”
My turn to roll my eyes. “Shut up.”
A silence fell between us. The church bells of St. Francis, on the other side of town, began its slow, deep toll. I decided to go for it.
“Can I tell you something?”
“Your first time? I noticed.”
I blushed, but no, I really wasn’t going to back away now. “No, it’s just that… for what it’s worth — and I promise you this is true — you’re also the first woman I fell in love with, you know? And I really do like you, a lot. Not just because of that,” I said, jerking my head towards the bed, “but also cause you really are funny and sweet and everything else. I wish I’d met you sooner, actually. Not just today, three hours before… before all this happened.” I kept my eyes fixed on the incoming comet. Maybe I was afraid of the words I’d just said.
She laughed, the long, loud, raucous laugh that I’d come to know so well over the past couple of hours. I arched my eyebrows, unsure what to make of it. “Ah, you’re a cute one,” she said. Then another long silence — or more accurately, I sat there, smiling sheepishly, waiting for her to stop giggling. “I’m happy for you, Ian,” she added at last. “I’m glad you got your happy ending.” She reached over and patted me on the shoulder. “And if it’s any comfort for you, you’ve got your good points, you know? I’d never admit to that, even if it was the end of the world.”
“Well, you know I’d never have said it unless we had a large rock breathing down our backs.”
She lifted herself out of her chair and walked over, giving me the best hug I’d ever get in my entire life. “It’s enough.”
We stood there for quite some time, just savouring the moment. “Kathryn?” I said at last.
“Are you scared?”
I felt her arms draw just a little closer. “Yup. Aren’t you?”
“Terrified. But we’re here. Like you said… it’s enough.”
She kissed me, and then sauntered back into the darkness of the room. “Well then,” she said, sitting down on the bed. “What do you say we take our minds off things by giving you a second try for that awful performance you gave just now?” She looked right at me and grinned, a grin that was even more electrifying than all the kisses we’d shared that evening.
I took one last look at the bright spark in the sky. Already it was getting bigger, already I could see the flames darting off the side. Even the room had gotten slightly brighter. For a moment, I hesitated. It just didn’t feel right — the world was ending, and here we were, trying to coax the climaxes from each other. And deep down, I still felt terrified: what would the end be like, couldn’t we do something about it? But then I looked at Kathryn, and I saw her confident grin. So what if we didn’t survive the night. We had a great time together. I grinned back at her.
“Alright. One last ride,” I found myself saying, and then we kissed as I jumped into bed and the wind began to howl.
Can we meet and talk tonight? I really need to just clear the air between us. It kills me to know that we’re like this.
You know what, just read the damn story. I wanted to apologize, to make things happier before Easter, but I realized that’s not possible anymore, not with all the stuff that’s happened.
The fact is, Emily, since you went and kissed me all those weeks ago I haven’t been sure of how I feel about everything. I thought it’d be easy to put all of what happened in March behind me, like it was something that you did on impulse or something, but no, it’s still in my head, your eyes are there every time I see you coming down into the café or whatever, and it bugs me because I don’t know whether you really meant it, or if you just did it because like I said, you’re lonely too and just need somebody to ground you to reality or something. And for a couple of weeks I thought that maybe you were the one who could save me, save me from this barren cliff face that nobody really cares about, but then I guess I was wrong to rely on you to do that. Maybe I love you, maybe I don’t. I just don’t know, honestly. It’s just simply a complete mess and I don’t really know how we’ve been doing this for so long. Do you even care about this — us — me anymore?
I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore. I don’t care if you read it, either. Just think of it as my last contribution. I’ll be away for a bit.
(Emily to Quentin, at 16:22)
What the absolute fuck is this?
We need to talk. Now.
Are you still in there? Why’s the cafe closed?
Where are you?